Virunga's hydropower potential

Posted on August, 20 2013

Hydropower can provide clean energy to rural communities depending on Africa’s oldest national park.
Virunga National Park’s first hydropower plant has started to generate electricity this week. The Mutwanga hydroelectric facility will provide clean energy to rural communities that depend on Africa’s oldest national park, authorities say.

Most residents in the area currently rely on dirty and dangerous coal stoves for cooking. Gathering of wood for charcoal is time consuming and has led to deforestation in Virunga, which is Africa’s most biodiverse protected area.

“This is a huge breakthrough for the park in terms of promoting socio-economic development, and ultimately peace and security,” park officials said. “The revenue that will be generated by the Mutwanga hydroelectric plant is also a big first step on the path toward helping the park fund operations even when tourism is closed by conflict.”

A report commissioned by WWF found that development of three hydropower plants in Virunga National Park could be the source of 10,000 permanent jobs. Adding two more facilities could also double the amount of power available to people in the area. “Access to electricity has been recognized to have substantial benefits for poverty reduction, promotion of production, health and education,” according to The Economic Value of Virunga National Park.

Sustainable economic development of Virunga, including fishing, hydropower, ecotourism, has the potential to reach an annual value of $1.1 billion, the report concluded. However, 85% of the park has been allocated as oil concessions. Oil extraction could lead to devastating environmental and social impacts. WWF is urging UK-based Soco International PLC to abandon plans to explore for oil within Virunga National Park, which is a World Heritage Site.
A worker on the Mutwanga hydropower plant in Virunga National Park.
© Brent Stirton / Reportage by Getty Images / WWF